Review: Spain and the Hispanic World

Starting off the year as I mean to go on, I visited the first major exhibition of 2023 which opened in London this weekend. Over 150 items arranged chronologically, from antiquity to early 20th Century, provide a visual narrative of the history of Spanish culture. On display at Spain and the Hispanic World: Treasures from the Hispanic Society Museum & Library at the Royal Academy, are pieces from the New York museum presented for the first time in the UK.

Favourite pieces included a Map of the Ucayali River, which brought to mind the Bayeaux Tapestry, with its delightful borders featuring fishermen, flora and fauna; the rather gruesome The Four Fates of Man; and the life-sized Duchess of Alba, in all her magnificent glory.

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Exhibition Preview: 2023

Have you bought your new diary, or do you rely solely on a digital calendar? I’m a traditionalist and carefully select a beautiful hardback desk diary which becomes my bible for the year, with appointments, anniversaries, travel and events. Everything, large or small, noted to not only keep on track but, just as importantly, in anticipation of interesting and fun things to come. Having good things to look forward is important especially in today’s ever-changing world.

Already in the diary for the first part of the New Year are some exhibitions that have caught my eye. There will be many more to come I’m sure, but here’s five to get the year off to a creative start.

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Christmas decorations at Windsor Castle

Today is the first Sunday of Advent and this week I share my visit to see the royal decorations at the iconic Windsor Castle. The day trip was part festive, part reminisce (verb: to indulge in enjoyable recollection of past events) and part pilgrimage. Which seems entirely fitting as the year draws to an end.

Let’s get Christmas 2022 started!

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Visiting St Paul’s Cathedral: The Highlights

For some unfathomable reason I have never been inside Christopher Wren’s masterpiece. Recently, I made amends and spent the day in what is, surely, one of the most breathtaking buildings in the world. The approach to St Paul’s Cathedral across Blackfriars Bridge affords a great view of the iconic dome and towers, but it is nothing compared to stepping inside. It was love at first sight.

You are literally stopped in your tracks by the sheer size of the interior for one thing, but also by the Baroque oppulence of rich colours spread before you. Many of the panels on the soaring ceiling are set with glass chips that sparkle like jewels as they catch the light.

Where to start which such a lavish offering? Common sense prevailed and we booked a 90-minute tour with one of the expert volunteer guides.

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Review: 878 AD a new App. by creators of Assassin’s Creed

If you were a Time Traveller where would you transport to? A new App. 878 AD launched this week and aims to re-create a significant moment in English history. After years of repeated attacks by the Vikings, in 878 AD King Alfred finally defeated the Great Heathen Army at Edington in Wiltshire, close to his army’s winter quarters. His success would mark the beginning of a strategy to position himself as not only ruler of Wessex but a united England. The rest, as they say, is history.

Imagine Anglo Saxon Winchester, the capital of King Alfred’s kingdom on the eve of battle where the people await news from the battlefield that will impact their daily lives (already devastated by years of Viking attacks) and the destiny of England itself. 878 AD features two parts; a new physical experience – a mini-museum – featuring live performances by actors, displays of rare Anglo Saxon objects and video imagery. Secondly, an interactive App. to download with a special code to access an immersive tour of the city using geo tracking. Create ‘memories’ from different locations and be rewarded with more content.

878 AD is a collaboration between Hampshire Culture Trust, Ubisoft, the creators behind the highly sucessful game Assassin’s Creed®, and Sugar Creative, a leading UK tech innovation studio. Advisor to the project is Ryan Lavelle, Professor of Early Medieval History and advisor to Netflix blockbuster, The Last Kingdom.

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Heritage Open Days: The Highlights

It has been a busy week. The annual festival, whereby heritage locations open their doors to the public for free, is an autumnal treat. Having said that, it’s not all about ancient buildings. Last year, with traditions as the theme, I popped into a family-run coffee roaster and this year I enjoyed talking to an artisan cheesemaker (while indulging a little cheese tasting, of course). There were also talks and online events and the festival grows every year. Best of all is the chance to explore places not normally open to the public. New discoveries this year included a backstage tour of The Grange opera house; and the family home of the Viscount of Lymington at Farleigh Wallop; as well as a return visit to the magnificent Winchester College, a firm favourite. The festival closes today but here’s my top five Heritage Open Days spots. If you missed them this past week, add them to your must-visit-soon list.

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This week… books and Breakfast at Tiffany’s

In an attempt to focus on the positive and ‘forget about the worries and the strife’ of the world-at-large (apologies for paraphrasing Baloo, but you get the idea), I find there’s a lot to be grateful for. Okay, so there’s a lot of rubbish going on too but, hey, I’m trying here.

The bright summer days are metamorphosing into autumnal mellowness. The light is softening and early mornings have a slight chill in the air, with dramatic sunsets taking place and noticeably earlier each day. There is the unmistakable, tell-tale earthy smell in the air and on woodland walks the grounds are strewn with acorns and drying leaves. The simple bare necessities.

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Discover a secret garden this summer

This week I’ve been enjoying many horticultural delights courtesy of the National Garden Scheme (NGS). The annual summer event provides the opportunity to mosey around private and public gardens in aid of charity.

The scheme is so quintessentially English, reminiscent of the beloved village fete an atmosphere fostered by the delicious homemade cakes available. Spoilt for choice at one garden, I indulged in a generous portion of walnut cake with a pot of cafetière coffee on a shady patio. Hosts were ultra friendly and there was some lively chat amongst the visitors. I met up with one couple at the next garden too, and we greeted each other like old friends. Gardening tips were swopped and recommendations for further gardens to visit. Aah, an English summer.

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Review: Out Of The Blue at The Arc

In the beginning there was Terence Conran, Ossie Clark, Celia Birtwell, Mary Quant, to name but a few of the innovative mid-century designers, and Tricia Guild. The Designers Guild began in 1970 with Guild opening in a small section of a shop in Chelsea’s King’s Road in 1974. It quickly became synonymous with cutting-edge design, the brand a byword for stylish living. The Guild’s fabrics were decidedly covetable and bestowed a certain je ne sais quoi.

Out Of The Blue, exploring the Designers Guild, first debuted at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London in February 2020 and subsequently closed due to the pandemic. The good news is that the exhibition, showcasing several exhibits not previously displayed, opened last week at The Arc in the historic city of Winchester.

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Review: moody blooms by Tricia Guild and photography by James Merrell

Tricia Guild’s new book, moody blooms: designing with nature, is part gardening book, part art catalogue and part interior design manual. The pages explode with colour and present an exploration of the varying forms and energies of different plants as an integral element of a beautifully designed interior. Guild’s designs are influenced by the cyclical life of a twig, leaf or flower from tentative bud to full-blown deliciousness, as well as their melancholic demise. Her work is a blend, a meeting of graphic design and painting, travel influences and structural objects, light and shade.

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